Homes Divided: Vaccinated Health Workers Chart a New Normal


Dr. Kuppalli and others expressed some discomfort at being first in line for the vaccine, while so many others in the United States and beyond line up for their own shot at safety. “I don’t think guilt is the right word,” she said. The system of tiers, recommended by government officials to prioritize those at highest risk, made scientific sense. But there was still immense privilege, she said, tucked into the tiny droplets of fluid that were pricked into her right arm this month.

After nearly a year on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, health workers are finally receiving a long-awaited coat of armor. It feels strange to wear it, they said, amid the many millions still left without their own chain mail.

Manevone Philavong, 46, who has worked in environmental services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Passavant for 21 years, was among the first in the nation to be vaccinated on the morning of Dec. 14.

He long ago became accustomed to the risks posed by his line of work, which involves cleaning just about “every aspect of the hospital,” he said. When he arrives home from work, he enters through the garage and disrobes in the basement before heading inside, where he lives with his mother and father, who are in their 80s, and his pregnant 30-year-old niece.

Since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Philavong has tried to keep physical distance from his parents. They speak to each other from opposite sides of the living room. His father has had to work alone while tinkering with the family cars — a 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee and a 2009 Ford F-150 — and tending the herbs and vegetables in the garden. This year, the family skipped their regular trip to Moraine State Park to fish for trout and bass.

When Mr. Philavong told his parents about his injection, they were thrilled. “They said, ‘Now you can spend more time with us,’” he said. “I said, ‘Not quite yet.’

The vaccine provides “a layer of hope,” Mr. Philavong said. “But I’m still going to use every precaution I can.”

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